Corporate Development

CJ Koh Professorship 2010: A Perspective on Educational Reform

By Office of Education Research

Prof Robin Alexander at the NIE staff seminar on 17 March 2010 Prof Robin Alexander at the NIE staff seminar on 17 March 2010 “In a world where humanity’s very survival depends on international co-operation rather than national supremacy, perhaps we should consider an education that encompasses childhood well-being, concern for climate change, and an overall global consciousness.”
Prof Robin Alexander

Policy makers have tended to rely on high-stakes testing as the mainstay in education reforms. But is it necessarily the best way forward to improve the quality of teaching and learning?

“There is a growing consensus from a wide spectrum of professional, parental, religious and public opinion that the obsession with tests and league tables has had its day. We need a richer and more humane educational vision for today’s children and tomorrow’s world,” said Professor Robin Alexander at this year’s CJ Koh Professorial Lecture.

Prof Alexander is Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge. He is renowned for his research and writing on policy, pedagogy, curriculum, evaluation, international comparative and cultural studies, primary education and teacher education. He is also author of the award-winning book Culture and Pedagogy (2001, Wiley).

In his public lecture on 18 March 2010, entitled “The Perils of Policy: Success, Amnesia and Collateral Damage in Systemic Educational Reform”, Prof Alexander referred to the use of high-stakes testing as a lever of systemic reform to increase standards in literacy and numeracy in England. He contended that education is in peril when “efforts to reform public education are ironically diminishing its quality and endangering its survival”.

He argued that “world-class education does not equate with top scores in the PISA and TIMSS.” This, however, does not mean an end to high-stakes assessment. Drawing insights from the Cambridge Primary Review, a comprehensive enquiry into English primary education which he directed from 2006–10, he noted, “The report does not argue whether or not children should be assessed or not, but rather, how they should be assessed, and in relation to what.”

Prof Robin Alexander (left) receiving a token of appreciation from NIE Director Prof Lee Sing Kong
Prof Robin Alexander (left) receiving a token of appreciation from NIE Director Prof Lee Sing Kong

“In a world where humanity’s very survival depends on international co-operation rather than national supremacy,” he said, “perhaps we should consider an education that encompasses childhood well-being, concern for climate change and an overall global consciousness.”

“Education can empower children to become thinkers, learners, communicators, social beings and citizens,” said Prof Alexander, “but children will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers are expected to do merely as they are told. We need both a curriculum and a pedagogy that align with these broader educational goals.”

In the classroom, the use of “dialogic teaching” can help to stimulate and extend pupils’ thinking. Prof Alexander elaborated on this approach, which he has written extensively about, at the NIE staff seminar the day before, on “The Dialogues of Culture and Pedagogy”.

He explained that by learning together in groups, listening and sharing ideas with each other in a supportive environment, students build on their own and each other’s ideas to achieve specific educational goals. Furthermore, classroom dialogues should encompass cultural and civic interaction between the individual and society, and not just between the student and teacher.

Each year, outstanding professors in education are invited to NIE under the CJ Koh Professorship in Education. Previous visitors have included Prof Marilyn Cochran-Smith from Boston College and Prof Susan Fuhrman from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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